First in the discussion of Eastern Europe is Hungary, whose health profile has been the poorest among the former socialist countries outside the former Soviet Union. Although they shared the same communist ideology, the Eastern European socialist countries were not a unified group; they had different cultures, historical traditions, social problems, and national experiences (Ostrowska 1996). These countries also differed with respect to the degree of agricultural collectivization, the extent of popular support for the state, the existence of independent social groups outside the Communist Party, the commitment to communism, and the operation of market mechanisms to supplement central planning (Wong 1995). Hungary, in particular, is different because it once was a prominent member of one of Europe’s major empires—the Austro-Hungarian, or Habsburg, Empire—which lasted into the early twentieth century and stretched across a vast territory in both Eastern and Western Europe. Consequently, Hungary has closer historical ties to the West than most other former socialist countries.
As in the last chapter, I begin the discussion by examining the relationship between health and social change in Hungary and then review the health effects of policy, societal stress, and lifestyles in the search for the primary social determinant for the downturn in life expectancy.
This chapter was written with the assistance of Péter Józan, M.D., Ph.D., Head, Division of Population and Health Statistics, Hungarian Central Statistical Office, Budapest, Hungary.